The Root of Hatred and Persecutions against the Church: The Socialist Story

“Shame, say I, and a thousand times shame, upon so feeble a religion as that which can tolerate the awful social life which exists in London at this very time. There are not less than four hundred thousand persons in London alone in a state of semi or actual starvation… What are you ministers and plutocratic members of the rich churches and chapels doing to make earth like heaven?” — Tom Mann, 1896. [1]

The church at large needs to repent and acknowledge the great wrongs that we’ve done to the world and humankind.

Over the past decade or two, Christendom has seen an exponential increase in persecution. Persecution arises in different forms all around the world. However, over the past few years, persecutions in China that arise from an attempt by the Chinese government to promote “socialism with Chinese characteristics” begin catching the attention of the global community. It is important to note that the persecutions of religion in China not only applies to Christianity but also to other religions at large. In light of this growing pressure that curb the fundamental of freedom of religion that is rooted in the 36th article of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China [2], I think it is only appropriate that Christendom take a step back and analyze why the Middle Kingdom is opposing its very own constitution to “curb” religious practices in the country [3].

In this short post, I aim not to come to a conclusion on the absolute root cause of the persecution. Rather, I aim to shed light on the reason behind the communist manifesto and how it manifested itself into the socialist form we see today.

My readings on the topic bring me back to the very foundations of Marxism. The year was 1848 and Karl Marx has penned the final words in his masterpiece, “The Communist Manifesto” [4]. During his time, Europe was already deeply ingrained in capitalist ideology and there were already two main social classes. These social classes are namely the “Bourgeoisie” (owners of methods of production) and the “Proletariats” (the laborers). Having seen the inequalities of the society, Marx adopted the most extreme form of socialism, communism, which called for a complete abolishment of social classes and a reform that would end capitalist once and for all.

The communist concept is simple. Communist preaches that people need one another to achieve greater things as a community. Authorities should ensure that the needs of all are met and that there should be a central control of the economy [5].

There is no hint of negativity in the communist ideology when it comes to religion, let alone persecution. In fact, the communist ideology is so in-sync with Biblical teachings that many Christians actually supported communist ideology [6]. Luke described Biblical communism at its best when he wrote that, “all believers were together and had everything in common.” (Acts 2:44, NIV). In fact, the communist ideology was so entwined in the lifestyle of early Christendom that the Church literally experienced the Utopia [7] that Marxist theories spoke about when “there were no needy persons among them.” (Acts 4:34, NIV).

Let’s face it. Socialism and communism is in love with religion. More specifically, it is in love with Christianity. As Tom Mann, a socialist activist describes in 1896 in his article, “A Socialist’s View of Religion and the Churches” [1]:

“I am not condemning religion, but the lack of it. Religion to me consists of those ethical principles that serve as a guide in all matters of conduct—social, political, and industrial alike; and the essence of the whole thing is this: the choice between a life whose actuating motive shall be self, either in acquiring wealth, renown, prestige, or power, and a life which shall have primary regard for the well-being of the community as a whole. To do this is to engage in making it possible for “His kingdom to obtain on earth as in heaven.””

The world needs religion desperately. But Christendom is poor spiritually. There is no zeal in serving the needy and solving issues that arise from inequalities. The Church isn’t standing up to the unfairness of the world. Rather, the Church is indulging in the goodness of material wealth just like how the rest of the Bourgeoisie are reaping what they do not sow.

To make matters worse, Protestantism promoted the growth of Capitalism by justifying material wealth as a sign of God’s blessing and election [8].

Christianity’s promotion of an economic system that is in direct opposition to Biblical teachings angered socialist throughout history. As a religion with “obvious western heritage” [9], the Church in China finds itself at odds with the “anti-Western ideology” government [10].

I think, both the government and the Church knows this.

This is why the bittersweet, love-hate relationship of the Church and Communism cumulated to the founding of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement where the Communist government allowed the Church to practice freedom of worship under the following terms: The Church must self-govern (no foreign ideologies should infiltrate and manipulate the governance of the church), self-support (the church should not receive foreign aid so that no foreign ideologies may infiltrate the country), and self-propagate (the church should manage its own growth without foreign intervention) [11]. Should a church or an institution fail to comply with the government’s request, then the government will have the right to deny its freedom to operate.

I think this is only fair that the socialist government enforce the rule of thumb so as to ensure the propagation of its socialist ideals. After all, its people-centered philosophy called for the promotion of holistic development and common prosperity for everyone [12]. For a government that promoted people-centered development, prosperity, and religious freedom [14], I do not understand why Christians in China is arguing that the government is “the most horrendous evil of Chinese society” and that “there is no greater wickedness in the world than this” [13].

I do think that there’re untold stories hidden behind the veils of communist propaganda and illegal churches. Stories unheard of in the public spheres. There may be linkages between capitalist ideologies and the existence of illegal churches that many are unaware of. The government too may have hidden agenda(s). I do not know. But one thing is for sure: A common understanding between the institutions can be drawn when past grievances are resolved and relationships reconciled.

I think, for the sake of the gospel, the Church should take a stand. We need to repent and admit our wrongs.

Footnotes:

[1] — https://www.marxists.org/archive/mann-tom/1896/religion.htm
[2] — Refer to Article 36 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_religion_in_China
[3] — McDermid, (2019). Asia is ‘new hotbed of Christian Persecution’ with situation in China worst since Cultural Revolution, report claims. Retrieved from https://www.scmp.com/news/asia/southeast-asia/article/2182260/asia-new-hotbed-christian-persecution-situation-china-worst
[4] — https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/marx-publishes-manifesto
[5] — https://www.sahistory.org.za/article/differences-between-capitalism-communism-and-why-did-it-start-russia
[6] — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marxism_and_religion#Communism_and_Abrahamic_religions
[7] — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utopian_socialism
[8] — https://acton.org/pub/religion-liberty/volume-10-number-3/how-christianity-created-capitalism
[9] — https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2010/aug/28/china-future-christianity
[10] — https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/religion-china
[11] — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-Self_Patriotic_Movement
[12] — http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2017-10/18/c_136688284.htm
[13] — http://www.chinapartnership.org/blog/2018/12/my-declaration-of-faithful-disobedience
[14] — Article 36: “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief.” Retrieved from: http://www.npc.gov.cn/englishnpc/Constitution/2007-11/15/content_1372964.htm

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